About the Author
Bradley P. Beaulieu is the author of The Winds of Khalakovo the first of three planned books in The Lays of Anuskaya series. In addition to being an L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Award winner, Brad’s stories have appeared in various other publications, including Realms of Fantasy Magazine, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Writers of the Future 20, and several anthologies from DAW Books. His story, “In the Eyes of the Empress’s Cat,” was voted a Notable Story of 2006 in the Million Writers Award.
You can read more at his webpage
Here are his thoughts on writer’s block:
I haven’t really experienced a bad case of writer’s block. I think in my early days of writing I just didn’t know any better. My characters were thin. My plots were, well, plot-driven. So when I got to a place where I felt stuck, it was mostly a matter of making the plot move in some new direction and forcing the characters to follow.
I like to think I’ve grown a bit since then. And when I say that I mean I’ve grown not just in my craft, but in my ability to deal with problems. In my early books I made some majorly bad choices. Whether it was a decision for a character, the world, or the plot, it caused me to take a wrong move, and though I bulled forward, I found pages or chapters later that things just weren’t working. Sometimes I didn’t recognize this until the whole manuscript was written. But as my ability to sense problems grew, I started to catch this earlier. Still, there were times where I would write page upon page after taking the left fork in the road when I should’ve taken the right.
And then I learned a very useful trick. If you find that things are “wrong,” that you’re stuck in some way, it’s usually an indicator that you’ve taken one of these wrong moves. You zigged when you should’ve zagged. And then it’s a matter of backtracking until things feel “right” again. That place, right there; that’s where you took the wrong move. Take a close look at what happened in that scene or shortly after, and you’ll usually find the problem. Then comes the hard part. Reimagining. Story ideas have a habit of settling like epoxy. Once you mix those ideas, once you put them on the page, you only have so much time before things begin to set. It’s best to find the issues quickly, not just so that you don’t have to rewrite thirteen and a half chapters, but so that you can easily and effectively get yourself unstuck.
In order to get unstuck, I use one simple technique. It’s a brainstorming technique that’s easy to learn and easy to start using, but I will admit it takes time to get good at, to come to trust your instincts. It goes something like this: start asking questions. What happens next? Who does so? Why do they do it? What do they hope to gain? How does this affect the other character? What you’ll find as you start sifting through possibilities is that the first handful will be cliché. They will be the ones you and everyone else expects. So keep digging. As you do, you will eventually find an idea that makes your ears perk up. Something that makes you go: Wow! That’s the idea you want to keep, or at least give more serious thought to. Even these cool ideas don’t always pan out, but these two simple techniques help you to back the train up and take a new, better path for your story. And this has a secondary benefit as well: if you’re excited about the new idea, it will make you excited to write. And that’s a huge bonus, as we all know.
As time has gone on, I’ve found that I’m much more able to sense when I’ve taken a wrong turn in plot. When I do, I’ll simply stop writing. Maybe for a day, maybe for a few days. But I’ll give myself that time to simply sit and brainstorm using the Q&A described above until I have my “ah ha!” moment. Then I get back to the grindstone. In this way, I sort of inchworm my way through the plot, and I’m rarely afflicted with writer’s block, and never for any serious amount of time.
Check out Brad’s books (click on the images for more information):
I think you’ve mentioned the “ask questions” part on one of the Speculate! podcasts, or somewhere else. That part seemed familiar or at least resonant with stuff you’ve said before on writing.
Thanks, Paul. Yeah, I think I talked about it on some Speculate ‘cast or another. There are other brainstorming techniques I use too, but not related to writer’s block so much as working out the plot/world/characters in the first place.